Orcas Island grabs kids with skate parks, bike paths
You know how it is. You're riding the big bowl at the Orcas Island Skate Park, rolling around like a human BB inside a giant cereal bowl...
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
You know how it is. You're riding the big bowl at the Orcas Island Skate Park, rolling around like a human BB inside a giant cereal bowl, bending the laws of physics and centripetal force to your whim and, well, somehow it's still not enough.
What better way, then, to break up the potential ennui than by stacking three skateboards atop one another and — after gathering some speed with the BB in the cereal bowl thing — leaping over them. Flying, if only for a moment, like some mini-, non-motorized Evel Knievel.
So thought 10-year-old Demitri Pence recently as he and some pals skated the bowls, pipes and swervy, curvy concrete waves of this 20,000-square-foot marvel located just behind his hometown of Eastsound. With friends Chris and Nick and Baker and Solomon and Grant, and a handful of others watching, Demitri borrowed a few skateboards, made a wall out of them and had at it.
It was spring break. My 8-year-old son, Baker, and I had been looking for someplace to go for a couple days where there were lots of things to do.
He likes to skateboard. I like to ride bikes. He likes to skateboard. I like to hike. He likes to skateboard. I like pretty views, especially panoramic vistas. He likes to skateboard. I like to camp. He likes to camp. Orcas Island was perfect.
Primo camping spot
Getting to the island
Take Washington State Ferries from Anacortes to Orcas Island. (Current round-trip fare for car and driver: $31.05; $8.55 for each additional passenger age 6 to 18; $10.65 for those 19 and older.) Schedule and more information: call 511 or see www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
Getting to the skate park
From the Orcas ferry landing, drive the Horseshoe Highway about nine miles to Eastsound. Instead of turning right into town, however, continue straight for a little more than a half-mile to Mount Baker Road, just across from the airport. Turn right and follow for another half-mile to Buck Park on the right, where Orcas Island Skate Park is located. For more information, go to www.skateorcas.org.
Moran State Park
Moran State Park is about four miles beyond the town of Eastsound. Named for former Seattle Mayor Robert Moran, who donated 2,700 of its now 5,200 acres, Moran is Washington's fourth-largest state park. It has about 38 miles of hiking trails, of which 25 are open to mountain biking from Sept. 15 to May 15. About 12 miles of trails are open to cycling throughout the summer months. A free trail map is available at the Moran State Park office near the South End Campground, and at Wildlife Cycles in Eastsound. The South End Campground is located about two miles past the park entrance, on the right. Campsites are $19; this time of year, reservations generally aren't needed. To reserve by phone, call 888-226-7688; online go to www.camis.com/wa. More information: www.parks .wa.gov or 360-376-2326.
Bicycle rentals, rides
Wildlife Cycles, 350 North Beach Road in Eastsound, rents bicycles for $30 to $40 a day. Open Tuesday through Saturday in off-season. www.wildlifecycles.com or 360-376-4708.
At 1:15 p.m. Wednesdays through May, Wildlife Cycles leads the Orcas Island Recreation Program's Wacky Wednesday Bike Rides for kids 8 and older. Rides last until 3 p.m. and will start and finish at Orcas Island Elementary School, 611 School Road in Eastsound. Cost: $5. For information, call Wildlife Cycles or the Orcas Island Recreation Program at 360-376-5339.
More fun for kids
Kids looking for some rainy day island fun? The Funhouse, 30 Pea Patch Lane in Eastsound (www.thefunhouse.org) is at once a kids' museum, learning center and community gathering space geared toward kids age 7 to 18. Among the Funhouse's offerings: fun science exhibits and brainteasers, audio and video recording studios, a pitching machine, computer center and more. For hours and more information, call 360-376-7177.
Forgot your skateboard? Pads? Helmet? (Helmets are required at the Orcas Island Skate Park.) Visit the Orcas Island Board Shop, 365 North Beach Road in Eastsound. Call 360-376-7233.
Built using donations of $225,000, with fundraising help from Orcas Islanders such as Warren Miller of ski movie fame, the 5-year-old skate park here is considered one of the best in the Northwest.
Which brings us back to Demitri.
His first try had plenty of height, but when he leapt, his board flew off like there was somewhere else it was supposed to be. Second try: He landed cleanly on the board but with not enough height. The skateboard wall toppled over.
"You can do it, Demitri!" someone cheered. "You're gonna try it again, right?" someone else asked.
As if there was the slightest chance he wouldn't. A skateboarding wunderkind, Demitri started skateboarding at 3, and at 7 was already sponsored by Issaquah's Extremely Board skate shop. He rides with an aggressive finesse and balance that other riders here — young kids to adolescents to baggy pants-falling-down, sideways ball cap-wearing 20-somethings — can only shake their heads at.
Demitri gave the skateboard wall a third try, and this one was a charm. Both he and the board leapt, and though momentarily separated they returned to earth together. Demitri, cleanly on top, rode away to cheers, "Awesome!"s and the high-fives of his skate-park peanut gallery.
Earlier that day, we'd driven to Anacortes, hopped a state ferry to Orcas (during which I assured Baker, oh 12 to 15 times, that our first stop would be the skateboard park), and took to fancying ourselves islanders. After our initial skate session, during which we first met Demitri, we went about landing a campsite at Moran State Park, one of my favorite places in the world. Five thousand-plus acres of forested lakes and trails, stunning waterfalls and oh, that panoramic vista from its tippy tippy top!
We'd never camped here off-season before, so as we entered the South End Campground, one of four in the park, I went into my urgent must-get-last-campsite-before- someone-else-does default mode. I needn't have bothered. This time of year, we had the pick of the place, and chose a spacious spot at the south shore of Cascade Lake. A spot so primo that even though there were two others fairly close, we figured we could live with campers on either side of us. Turns out, no one else ever showed up.
We skipped rocks, took turns trying to photograph a river otter that poked its head up from time to time (Baker named him Sawm, short for "Saw him"), and played chess by the fire. Then headed back to the skate park for round two.
That last, agreed to by the father so long as the son would take a drive with him to the top of Mount Constitution. From our campground, Mount Constitution Road winds and wends some seven miles, climbing more than 2,000 feet and leading to one of the most spectacular views you'll find anywhere. One that's never quite the same twice.
Clouds and sunlight play tricks on the views — sometimes you come here and you'd swear you can see every peak, crook and nanny from Whistler to Mount Rainier, not to mention half the San Juan Islands and every seaside community along the way. Other times, it's a blanket of low clouds with only the tops of the highest islands and Mount Baker poking through. Either way, it's stunning.
This was a dappled sunlight day, with clouds and distant showers blocking any mountain views. Cloud shadows made the islands — both Washington's San Juan and British Columbia's Gulf — appear somewhat bruised, a mix of black and green. The vast expanses of open and island-dotted water — Northern Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia — shimmered in blues and grays and whites, reflecting the clouds.
As with the campground, we had the place to ourselves. Baker had a blast running to the top of the 45-foot stone observation tower, but upon looking down, got freaked out and ran just as quickly back to the bottom. Restored in 2004, the circa 1936 structure is modeled after 12th-century watchtowers of southeast Europe. These days, interpretive signs detail the views, telling things like which island is which, as well as the park's history.
"Dad, can we go ... "
"... to the skate park?' Yes, let's go."
The pull of the bowl
Through May 15, mountain bikes are allowed on about 25 of Moran's 30-some miles of trails, so the following morning, with bikes in tow, we drove a couple miles up Mount Constitution Road to Mountain Lake. It's the biggest lake in the park and is circumscribed by a forested 3.9-mile, mostly level lakeshore-hugging trail. On a lazy morning like this, one in which a couple buffleheads silently making their way across the lake is show-stopping entertainment, it was a study in tranquility. Not that we experienced much of it.
We'd ridden about a mile before Baker realized that there was no way he could shake the images of the 20,000-square-foot concrete wonderland that lay just a few miles west of here. He wanted to be riding smooth little polyurethane wheels, not 24-inch knobby tires.
So we schlepped the bikes back in the car and headed down the mountain. On the way, Baker assented to a short half-mile hike along the Cascade Falls Trail. Downed trees from last fall's mega-storm obstructed some of the views, as well as the falls themselves, but it was still a thrilling gush of rushing water.
From there it was on to, guess where ... the skate park.
It was a little after noon when we made it back to the skate park. We found a handful of riders surfing the cement including, not surprisingly, Demitri Pence, who, for some reason, was riding in his stocking feet.
"It just feels good," he said when asked why.
His mother, Cindy, was there, too. Demitri's a well-rounded athlete, she told me, who plays Little League baseball and football, too.
"He likes playing football because he doesn't get hurt so much," Cindy said.
I wondered how many times in the history of mankind that sentence had ever been uttered.
For the next three hours, Baker, Demitri and a revolving cast of like-minded others skated up, down, around and across, like marbles rolling around inside a bathtub. There was nowhere else they'd rather be. Nothing else they'd rather do.
It was spring break, after all.
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of "Day Hike! Central Cascades" and "Day Hike! North Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.